Tuesday, July 30, 2013

too many recipes, so little memory

A recipe card fell out of a book today, so timely, so true, for a delicious and provocative appetizer that Diana Kennedy scribed in her Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico, which, if you don't know, is a classically beautiful book and worth acquiring if you haven't already. Especially if you like Mexican food, are literate, know anything at all about Diana Kennedy, and have a buck or two to spend and an hour or so to read.
People have been known to do that with recipe books, and perhaps you are one.

I've been making Sikil-P'ak for probably thirty-five years, and I can say that because I remember taking it to a party in Shrewsbury and JP asking me if it wasn't Sikil-P'ak. I stared at him: how would this person, a lawyer for gawd's sake, know what this ground mash of roasted pumpkin seeds and tomato was? (He could because he had/has a quite sophisticated palate; a bit like James Beard's, both gotten at the ends of rich apron strings belonging to mother, father, or further.)
And since we were all young and beautiful then and could stay out until 4 and get to work by 8, and since it's been thirty years since JP and I've found anything at all to say to each other, it had to've been thirty-five years ago. At least.

But I have not made it in several years because it had fallen from my memory, absolutely.
Cilantro berries and flowers

What makes this appetizer so timely is that tomatoes are ripe just now, or at least ripening, and the cilantro berries are perfect for using before they harden into seeds. (BTW, I wrote last year about cilantro berries here.) 

Never mind that the recipe doesn't call for cilantro berries, it does call for cilantro and the berries just go the extra mile, adding a bursting juiciness to the texture of the whole thing.

Hot peppers are also coming into season, and because Diana, Ms. Kennedy, explains that she has added the habanero pepper on her own – it is not traditional – I have taken the liberty, in addition to adding the cilantro berries, of changing the pepper to one jalapeno and one pepperoncini, because that is what I found at the Farmers' Market Saturday. Habanero, as you may know, besides being flavorful, are excruciatingly hot. I would NOT know, because I'm chicken. But I love the green taste of jalapeno, cool and juicy and crisp, as well as hot, but not as hot as habanero. I preserve that coolness and that greenness by not charring them, but carving them up into tiny squares, a brunoise, if you please.

As for the pumpkin seeds, you would not want to use the big tough pumpkin seeds from your Halloween pumpkin – you would want to use the tiniest "unhulled" pumpkin seeds you could find. The ones in the Co-op bulk section are perfect.
With all that said, in case you are reading this because you want to make this traditional Mayan dish, here is the recipe.

My own notes: 
  • Although I pour the pumpkin seeds into a heavy dry skillet, I sprinkle them with some olive oil into which some garlic has been macerated. Not too much. heat them over medium-low heat, shaking or stirring constantly.
  • I cover the tomatoes with boiling water, cover, and let them sit for 15 minutes. Skin and chop them when they have cooled a bit.
  • As mentioned, I cut the peppers into tiny squares and combine with the chives and chopped cilantro and whole cilantro berries before stirring them into the tomato/seed mixture.
  • Correct for salt.
  Ms. Kennedy notes that the correct name for this dish is ha'-sikil-p'ak: ha' (water), sikil (pumpkin or squash seed), and p'ak (tomato). As for how you might pronounce it, I simply say "sickelpack." It's served as a dip "(horrible word!)", she comments, and dipped up with tortilla chips.

That's about all. Bon apetit!

1 comment:

Penny said...

Sounds wonderful Sharon. MFK Fisher hated the idea of dips also. But I would love this.